Earlier this year, we took a quick hop across the water to visit Niall in his facility, Nikafit Studios – the only purpose-built small-group training gym in Ireland, with over 200 members.
We wanted to get his take on the highs and lows of establishing a successful training gym (and get a look at his state-of-the-art setup).
Here’s his story.
“I knew I’d have to start from scratch”
What was your journey to owning and running Nikafit Studios?
I started out at my first gym with a partner. We’d worked together for a few years, but it became clear that there was just this disconnect in how we wanted to approach the business.
Making the decision to cut my losses and sell my shares was a really difficult one. I knew I’d have to start from scratch – it was a risk. But I’m glad I took the clean break. It was the right decision.
I opened Nikafit Studios in December 2016 with my partner Katy. We designed and built the premises from scratch around the SGPT (small-group personal training) model, investing everything into the project.
The experience I’d got from running the first outfit really helped with making the right decisions. It took some determination to get the thing off the ground but it started growing fast. We’re coming up to two years later now, and we’re sitting at around 207 members. The model has definitely been a success.
How did you get involved with JC Vacassin and the IFBA?
Ever since I met him over drinks several years ago, JC has played a big part in my journey. I haven’t always wanted to listen to the advice he was giving me, but more often than not I’ve ended up saying to myself, ‘Sh*t, JC was right.’
There’s no other resource that help PTs transition from trainers into successful gym owners. Look at the success of the IFBA members – these people are running high-quality establishments with big turnovers, and can provide a good life for themselves and for their families. There’s no doubt the IFBA works.
Nikafit Studios is now an IFBA regional training centre, and I’m co-leading support for the country. The IFBA has been really valuable in helping me reach the point I’m at, and now we can use this as a platform to help other gym owners on a similar journey.
Do you have any advice for current or aspiring gym owners?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes to get where I am today.
I hired the wrong staff and had to let them go. I invested in bad decisions that didn’t benefit my clients or my business. I lost money.
But I also sought support where I needed it, stuck to my ambition to make the project work, and learned as I went.
I would definitely advise you to get a mentor right from the beginning. You’ll make better decisions. Plus, get together with a group of people on the same journey as you. Some will be ahead of you, some behind. But finding a ‘mastermind’ group gives you the brain power, knowledge, and experience of more than just yourself. You’ll avoid a lot of mistakes.
Also, establish the proper systems from the get-go – it’ll save a lot of lost resources. Proper planning, a clear framework, and a solid grasp of all the processes will put you in a strong position for growing and scaling your business.”
What makes Nikafit Studios so successful?
We always bring our decisions down to one question: ‘What do our clients want and how do we provide it?’ I think that helps us stay on point with what we’re offering.
For example, a lot of people want to lose fat. As PTs, we know that most people won’t achieve this without attention to decent nutrition. So you’ve got to provide support for that.”You should also keep an ear to the ground for what’s new and what’s trending in fitness. It’s fashionable at the moment for ladies to have ‘developed’ backsides. So we provide a class that works on building the necessary areas to make that happen. Obviously it’s still important to work on your whole body, but you can help people target what they want to target. It’s the same with men and upper body classes. It’s not about pigeonholing people – we have women in the upper body class, and vice-versa – it’s about tailoring your service to what they want to achieve.
Do your due diligence in sports science and develop a skill-set that allows you to develop results-based personal training programs for your clients; and then deliver it in a model that focuses on quality coaching and the training experience.
The SGPT model has been an important factor for our success. We work in small groups, generally a ratio of four clients to one coach. This allows you to get into some of the more advanced techniques with the general population and to deliver really effective workouts. It’s also incredibly cost-effective for the client, as they get as good as (or better) results than with one-on-one training – but we can make the price point really appealing and sustainable. It’s a win-win.
Gym culture and branding are also significant. Everything about Nikafit, from the way we’ve designed the building to how our staff interact with clients, is about making the gym a welcoming, warm place to be. There’s a collaborative spirit running through everything we do – and our members feel that.”