BFS Speakers – 7 Signs of Fitness Studio Failure with Barbara Chancey


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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Barbara Chancey

Owner & Founder of Indoor Cycle Design


After the grand opening shindig and your studio is running smoothly, many assume the honeymoon will last forever. However, successful owners know that anything “new” will trigger momentum, but sustaining momentum is the secret sauce and why some studios thrive while others fail.

With a decade of experience launching boutique fitness studios worldwide, I hear the same excuses when classes once full are now half empty. Owners wonder why their wait-lists have disappeared and begin to play the blame game: “It’s summer and they’re on vacation.” “It’s that other new studio down the street.” “If we only had a professional PR firm or better instructors.” The list of excuses is endless.

When numbers are down and revenue drops, studio owners should take a hard look in the mirror and confront these 7 signs that indicate your studio may be on the fast track to failure.


The most insignificant features of your studio are often the most important to clients, and a “hit or miss” attitude will undermine your success. Policies you deemed important in the beginning, such as sending a handwritten note to first timers or greeting clients by name, is part of your brand and not an option.

Treat every day as if it were grand opening and never forget the little things. Ever.


When a leader blames the followers for not following, the leader has ceased to lead. Studio owners are often their own worst enemy and want to control every aspect of the business. Everybody benefits when owners delegate responsibilities, and thoughtful delegation will allow someone else to shine. Leadership is not about getting things done “right.” Leadership is about getting things done through other people.

Studios fail because owners spend time micro-managing what they know instead of learning what they do not.


It’s ironic that studio owners often splurge for expensive PR and marketing firms yet refuse to compensate their employees and assume “anyone” can teach a class. To be paid less than you’re worth is demoralizing and creates a toxic work environment. Instructors may eventually leave to become your competitor, and they know your strengths and weaknesses. Undercut your staff’s pay for the sake of your bottom line and watch how quickly they grow to resent you. It also doesn’t hurt to say please and thank you.

If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.


As Walmart founder Sam Walton said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Studios that enforce a lengthy list of rules prevent customer satisfaction and will not last in this highly competitive industry. Being kind is better than being right. If you win the argument, you’ll probably lose the client.

Mandatory reading for the entire staff: “The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company,” by Robert Spector.


Front desk greeters are the face of your business, and most negative YELP reviews or dropped memberships are because of unclear policies or incidents which happen here. Does your front desk staff assume it’s the member’s fault when a credit card is declined? Do some members get exceptions to policies while others do not? Does your staff represent diversity in age and ethnicity? Are they professionally trained in customer service?

Regularly practice role playing with real-world scenarios to help greeters anticipate the unexpected. Say Yes before No. Always.


I’ve watched it happen to one studio owner after another. They start off as hardworking, humble and hopeful visionaries who treat employees well and genuinely appreciate their efforts and sacrifices. Then one day, the owner is featured in a national magazine or a large check makes its way into the business account. They begin to lose sight of who and what helped get them there and believe it was solely their own doing. Don’t let your success make you feel superior —you’re not. If you are worth $2 million and pay those who work for you $10 an hour, it is a flat slap in the face if you live like royalty while your employees struggle to feed themselves.

Customers will never love your studio until the employees love it first. Owners should read: “Leaders Eat Last,” by Simon Sinek.


Bartenders and baristas often know more about a studio’s health than the owner. When employees gather in a public setting to unleash their frustrations toward management, fellow instructors and sometimes even clients, it doesn’t take long before the ripple effect of negativity spreads like wildfire. Class attendance dwindles and staff resignation letters soon follow. Words spoken by management and instructors, both inside and outside the studio, are the true trademark of your business.

Complaints are like questions. They communicate what a person truly values.

For more information on boutique fitness studio design and startup operations, visit:

Learn more about Barbara.

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