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Financing Options for Fitness Studio Owners in Today’s Market

Whether fitness studio owners need less than $350,000 in financing or more than that, they have a few options from which to choose.

Today’s fitness studios come in all sizes with a wide variety of fitness equipment. Consequently, the appropriate financing that fitness studio owners can opt to secure varies based upon the dollar the amount of capital required.

In this column, I’ve divided financing options into two buckets: one for studio owners needing $350,000 or less and the other for those needing more than $350,000.

Financing for $350,000 or Less

In 2014, the Small Business Administration (SBA) introduced the Small Loan Advantage loan program that some lenders refer to as the SBA Express loan. After the “The Great Recession,” many homeowners lost their real estate equity, which is used as collateral requirement for a SBA 7(a) loan approval in most cases. Consequently, many perspective borrowers were unable to secure financing because they lack the equity in their home required to collateralize their loan request. The SBA Express loan is capped at $150,000 to limit the lender’s risk since the borrower’s real estate collateral is not required and business assets are used to collateralize the SBA Express loan. Since the collateral used to secure an equipment lease is the equipment being financed and the collateral for the SBA Express loan is the equipment needed to operate the business, these two debt financing products are compatible.

Capital Leases – Leasing Equipment to Own

The most common financing option for fitness equipment is a capital lease. The main purpose of a capital lease is to finance the equipment purchase while preserving the owner’s working capital. Fitness studio owners can finance the purchase of their proprietary equipment, security systems, computer hardware and software, flooring, outdoor signage and other tangible items needed to run the business using an equipment lease. The owner(s) are required to personally guarantee the equipment lease. The required down payment ranges from a lease payment up to 20 percent of the amount financed. Lease documentation fees may range from $95 to $495. Repayment terms typically range from 12 months up to 60 months. All payments are tax deductible, so these payments will lower business’s taxable income and, in turn, tax liability. Since the plan is to keep their equipment long term, a typical capital lease offers a $1 end-of-term purchase option.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Express Working Capital Loan

This government-backed loan is designed to provide up to $150,000 of working capital to support the company until the business generates positive cash flow. The loan process takes 90 days to complete before the loan is funded. The SBA Express loan approval requirements are good personal credit and some liquid assets, and the loan process requires attention to detail. If the use of the loan funds is to finance a new location, the loan can be approved in advance; however, the funds will not be distributed by the bank until the new location has received a certificate of occupancy. This insures that the money will be used to operate the new business and will not be used to pay for build-out expenses. The interest rate for this loan is calculated by starting with the prime rate as published in the Wall Street Journal, which is currently 4.25 percent. The bank charges a 2.75 percent risk premium on this loan so the interest rate is 7 percent now. The repayment term is 10 years, and there is no pre-payment penalty so if the franchisee is extremely profitable, the loan can be prepaid to save interest expense.

In conclusion, equipment leases and SBA Express loans are complementary products that enable studio owners with good personal credit to finance the opening and expansion of a franchise. The best part about this financing combination of a SBA Express loan and equipment lease is that the collateral is your business assets, not your home.

Financing for $350,000 or More

For studio owners needing $350,000 or more, the SBA 7(a) loan will provide financing ranging from 70 to 90 percent of the total project costs, which typically includes the equipment needed to operate your business, organization costs, location buildout, deposits, inventory, operating working capital and franchise fees. The owners’ equity injection ranges from 10 to 30 percent of the total project costs and cannot be borrowed money, such as a home equity loans. The borrowers must provide their resume(s) demonstrating industry experience, transferable management skills and/or related education. The collateral for the loan includes all business assets. Additional collateral is often required, which is typically residential real estate only up to the loan dollar amount. Good personal credit is required.

The loan repayment term is 10 years. Prepayment penalties typically range from 1 to 4 percent over the initial term period. The interest rate is typically prime rate as published in the Wall Street Journal (4.25 percent) plus a risk premium typically 2.75 percent so the current rate offered is 7 percent. Closing costs are approximately 3 percent of loan amount and are usually added to the loan amount.

Real Estate Acquisition

The SBA loan will finance up to 90 percent of the real estate acquisition cost. The owners’ equity injections are typically 10 percent of the acquisition cost of the real estate and cannot be borrowed money, such as a home equity loan. The business must occupy at least 50 percent of the usable space, which provides an opportunity to lease out up to 49 percent of the usable space. The collateral is real estate being purchased. Good personal credit is required. The loan repayment term ranges from 20 to 25 years and is fully amortized with no balloon payment. The interest rate is calculated starting with the prime rate (4.25 percent) plus a risk premium that will vary based upon the appraisal and the strength of the borrower. The closing cost is typically 3 percent of the loan amount added to the amount financed at closing. The timing to close is 90 days and varies with bank workload, time for real estate appraisal and borrower responsiveness.     

Going with an SBA 7(a) program to finance your business has many benefits. The business owner will have only one monthly debt payment amortized over the longest repayment term available with no significant prepayment penalty. The use of funds is nearly unlimited to any legitimate business purpose. Since the SBA 7(a) loan is backed by the federal government, it offers the lowest APR available. Consequently, we recommend you strongly consider this form of financing for the wide variety of uses that this flexible loan product offers for business financing.


Paul Bosley is an AFS content contributor, supporter of SUCCEED! AFS’ Business Convention and Expo, partner and national marketing director in First Financial, and owns His industry experience includes previous partnerships with Titan Management Co., Q The Sports Clubs and Bally HTCA/Holiday Health & Fitness Centers. Bosley has a bachelor’s degree in health science and recreation management and is pursuing a degree in accounting. He has been a speaker at the Club Industry Show and at the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) conference.


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