Starting Strength Gym Ownership Prerequisites

by Ray Gillenwater, SSC | September 23, 2020

jay livsey owner starting strength denver

Now that we’ve proven the Starting Strength Gyms business model, we’re seeing an increase in franchise inquiries from investors and entrepreneurs, many of whom are unfamiliar with Starting Strength. This is good, since we must be an attractive investment option to achieve our goal of opening 100 Starting Strength Gyms. However, business experience is not the most important factor when evaluating prospective franchise owners. In fact, all of our currently open gyms are operated by Starting Strength diehards that are first-time entrepreneurs. The selection criteria we use to evaluate prospective Starting Strength Gym owners (or Area Developers) are as follows:


We select franchise owners that want Starting Strength Gyms to succeed as much as we do. We choose people that are interested in achieving financial success, and who are also motivated by enabling others to achieve an improved quality of life, since both are required to achieve long-term success in this business. An investment in a Starting Strength Gym needs to be more meaningful to a prospect than just numbers on a spreadsheet. This filter comes at a high short-term cost, since we turn away entrepreneurs that aren’t familiar with Starting Strength.

But not compromising on standards is more valuable (and more satisfying) in the medium to long term. If an investor isn’t interested in experiencing the Novice Linear Progression for themselves, there’s no way for them to have a complete understanding of how Starting Strength is useful and valuable. On the other hand, those that are new to Starting Strength, but go out of their way to read the books, hire a coach, visit one of our gyms, and sign up for a seminar are more likely to be a good fit. We enjoy working with ambitious, detailed people that take pride in the quality of their work.


It’s important that gym owners understand how crucial relationships are in business. We select exceptional people to represent our brand in their local market. We expect our gym owners to do the same: select coaches that are capable of helping others make rapid, continuous progress to achieve more than they thought was possible. Our service offering is the highest quality coaching in the industry, which requires that gym owners build a team of experienced, competent, thoughtful people. It’s crucial that a franchise owner understands the importance of, and is capable of creating, a positive gym environment to facilitate personal growth for both members and coaches.

Our members are productive, successful people that are willing to invest 4.5 hours of their time in our gyms each week to achieve results they can’t get elsewhere. This level of commitment can be a pleasure instead of a chore if the right people are selected to build the community and lead members to success. People are the difference between success and failure, and this applies to the franchise team, gym owners, coaches, and even members – we don’t compromise on people, and we expect gym owners to do the same.

jd shipley starting strength houston

Strategy and Operations

Every aspect of the business strategy has been documented. This includes how to find a gym location, how to build a gym, and how to run a gym. We enjoy working with big picture, strategic thinkers, but this is not a requirement for gym ownership. However, we do require that franchise prospects have operations experience, since following our guidelines with precision is the key to running a successful franchise. Fortunately, we attract a disproportionate number of IT, engineering, military, and financial professionals, since these personality types are more likely to enjoy the logical, systematic nature of both franchising and Starting Strength.

Member Acquisition

With geo-targeting, we inform website visitors when a gym is opening in their area and refer them to the gym’s website to sign up. This mechanism is automated, and it accounts for the majority of member acquisition in the gyms, both pre- and post-opening. Our business strategy was designed to fulfill existing demand for Starting Strength instead of attempting to create new demand. In other words, our franchise owners’ current success does not depend on their ability to convince strangers that Starting Strength is the best use of time in the gym. Most members sign up because we offer Starting Strength Coaching, and they realize that hiring a coach is the fastest, most reliable way to do the program effectively.

Most fitness franchises depend on paid lead generation for member acquisition. We’re not opposed to franchise owners investing in this (as long as it’s done ethically), but it hasn’t been necessary to propel any of our existing gyms to hit the coveted 100-membership milestone. Instead of investing in educating the masses, a better use of a gym owner’s time and money is to ensure that every member is getting stronger and enjoying the process. This not only improves loyalty, but it spurs the second most important aspect of membership growth: referrals from trainees that set new PRs 1-3 times per week that tell anyone that will listen about how it has enhanced their day-to-day existence.


Gym owner prospects need to be able to demonstrate that they have managed their personal finances effectively. We are looking for mature, responsible adults that have spent their careers working hard to put themselves in a secure financial position. This doesn’t mean we are seeking millionaires (although we do have a few on the team), but a strong personal balance sheet with liquidity in the tens of thousands and assets in at least the low hundreds of thousands is necessary to open a gym without an inordinate amount of risk. For high-potential prospects that are not in a strong net worth position but have enough cash to put meaningful skin in the game, we offer assistance in procuring financing.


Most of us are gym owners because we’d prefer not to have a “boss” and because we want to work with people that share our interests and values. All of our franchise owners get satisfaction from helping others, spending their productive time doing work they enjoy, and building a business that has scalable earnings potential – that is why they were selected.

To ensure consistent and quality execution, we choose leaders that have high standards for themselves and for the people that depend on them. If something isn’t good enough, it needs to be fixed because sub-optimal is unacceptable. When problems do arise, we focus on the assessment of facts and set our egos aside to come up with solutions that address the root cause of the issue. We all support each other in this process – coaches, members, gym owners, and the franchise team – since growing the Starting Strength brand benefits everyone, and because working within a group of supportive, highly competent people is one of the most satisfying aspects of life and business.

We enjoy working with clear-headed, passionate fans of Starting Strength that have the capital and motivation to open a Starting Strength Gym or become Area Developers. If you’d like to apply to own a Starting Strength Gym, or be considered for developing a region: submit an inquiry at

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