How to make it in fitness

The wellness industry is booming, and people are more discerning than ever about which gym or fitness class is right for them. As we explored in our recent post on some of our favourite examples of fitness gym wear, the number of gyms in the UK is growing, with there soon to be over 7,000 across the country. Not only that, but some people are willing to spend serious money on their gym and fitness classes: some memberships, especially in London, can set gym goers back upwards of £200 a month. 

This presents both an opportunity and a challenge. Clearly, there’s business to be had in offering bespoke, well-curated fitness experiences. But how to stand out from the crowd? Not only are there a wealth of budget options at the lower end of the market, but the space for premium, well-scented providers is getting crowded too. 

One fitness upstart which is making waves is ICON client Barber’s Gym, founded in 2012 and based in Hackney Downs, East London. Founder Darren Barber had spent plenty of time in the capital’s gyms and fitness clubs and he often left with a niggling feeling that he could do something better. Dubbing themselves a “semi-private training facility and bouldering club”, their brand is bespoke but unshowy, underscoring the ethos of the gym: to deliver quality classes but keep it simple.

We spoke to Barber to hear the inside story of how he started the business, and to learn his top lessons about what’s important when thinking about setting up your own bespoke fitness or gym business. 

How to start a boutique gym

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Enjoying the new programme format of; Barbells Monday Kettlebells Tuesday Body weight Wednesday Accessory Thursday Natural movement Friday Conditioning Saturday Very much endurance based this block and will move into strength for the next.

A post shared by Darren Barber (@barbersgym) on

1. Keep it simple

At the time between 2011 and 2012 when Barber was setting out to start his gym, there was already a growing boom in fitness clubs and gyms. “Bootcamps and military fitness had taken over every park in London and it was all quite uninspired,” he recounts. He had something different in mind: he wanted to have a place that was built around a community feeling, something that would differentiate them from the more commercial feeling that pervaded many of the options on offer at the time.

The important thing to him was to strip it back to the things that mattered. “We focused on the basics and getting them right,” he says. “No gimmicks or over complicated workouts: small groups and one to one training in a great space.”

2. Seek out a mentor

It can be tough when you’re starting your own business and trying to find your way. For this reason, Barber says that reaching out for support and advice is vital. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t follow your gut: sticking true to what you’re passionate about is vital, and seeking out like-minded people can provide support in finding the way to achieving your goals.

“Seek the best mentors, read and absorb as much as you can,” Barber says. “Then do what you’re asking everyone else to do, practice what you preach. Keep an open mind and learn from the mistakes you need to make.”

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Had a great day yesterday on the advanced route setting workshop by @impact_routesetting at the awesome @yondere17 Here are a few highlights from the set we created, learning specific route setting styles and more advanced setting techniques. Great course and highly recommend it for anyone is wanting to start route setting or just understand what it all involves. Lots of knowledge to take back to the gym and really looking forward to putting these new skills to practice on my wall. Cheers guys

A post shared by Darren Barber (@barbersgym) on

3. Find your style

For a bespoke business, it’s important to have a distinct identity. As Barber says, “Brand identity is super important for gym businesses as it’s usually the first visual contact with the customer. It helps to reaffirm the ethos and philosophy of the gym.”

In the case of Barber’s, their style is rooted in the tattoo art world. “I’m a back to basics coach and love the old school style of training and imagery,” he says. A case in point: the Barber’s logo originates in a trip he made to the London Tattoo Convention in 2012. Seeing a traditional flash piece of strongman art was a eureka moment, and he knew that he wanted to base the design of the logo on it. 

I have quite a few tattoos and really like the tattoo art world. I’m a back to basics coach and love the old school style of training and imagery. I went to the London tattoo convention just before I opened in 2012 and saw a great traditional flash piece of a strongman art and based the idea of the design on that. Its a strong look and everyone I showed it to had lots of positive feedback

Plus, there’s another bonus to this: if customers identify with your style, then they want to have a piece of it. Barber had several members requesting merchandise, and as he recalls, “When I printed my first batch with ICON they sold like a proverbial six pack pill!” 

Want to create merch for your gym or fitness business? ICON Printing offer fast turnaround printing on a range of garments, counting a number of clients in the fitness sector, as well as clients ranging from such as WeWork to Boiler Room and the Tate. Get a quote in 2 minutes online.