Michael Baker
Smarter Writer

Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

Michael Baker
Smarter Writer

Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

With new gyms appearing everywhere and revenues under pressure, does something have to give?

The fitness industry is undergoing a major shake-up as it evolves to service the widest possible customer base. Boutique studio concepts, 24/7 or women-only gyms, sweat factories catering  to the elderly and the ‘gymtimidated’ are all thriving. Are the new models fit for the long haul, or are some of them going to run out of legs?

heavy lifting accounting

Nutrition, skincare, exercise:  the holy trinity of health and wellness. For exercise, the cathedral of choice has usually been the gym (or fitness centre or health club). According to research by IBISWorld, the gym industry in Australia is now worth $1.3 billion.

For many people though, finding the time and motivation to work out is challenging. Often, work and family commitments restrict access for some during regular business hours. Cost is a factor for others, not to forget a genuine fear for many: fear of being humiliated by just appearing and, worst of all, working out among a bunch of young and impossibly ripped bodies.

These challenges are now surmountable, thanks to a new direction the gym industry is taking, which is offering different options.

Take 24-hour gyms, for example. Three of the leading names — Jetts, Anytime Fitness and Snap Fitness — are now appearing collectively in almost 800 locations nationwide.

Although these gyms frequently offer personal trainers like the more traditional fitness clubs, they don’t offer much in the way of classes and generally operate with a more bare- bones staffing model that keeps costs low.

With fewer bells and whistles, 24-hour gyms entice customers with four key advantages:  location, price, flexibility and 24-hour access. 

David Whytcross, Senior Industry Analyst at IBISWorld says: “When you consider the whole package they offer — lower membership cost, flexible contract options and greater accessibility in terms of location and opening times — this type of gym is expected to be the industry’s main growth driver going forward.”

Although the ‘big box’ gym is the most recognisable type of sweat factory around, other boutique gyms are appearing that offer dance cardio, aqua cycling, yoga and more. Some are really getting out there, like Brukwine, a reggae-inspired dance cardio workout where followers are encouraged to swap their cross trainers for high heels.

But the more traditional ‘full service’ gyms that host lots of programs throughout the week still have plenty of legs. They are also fighting back against the 24-hour operators by offering improved prices and more flexible membership arrangements that do not require long-term commitments.

Traditional fitness centres are also hosting more mainstream workouts for older customers and those whose physical shape might have deterred them from working out in public. Go any time of day to fitness centres like the one at the University of NSW in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and you will discover people of all shapes, sizes and ages flogging themselves onward with little attention to the presence of others.

What does the future hold then? Perhaps the most likely outcome of the current bump and grind of fitness formats is a mix of both 24/7 and ‘full service’ gyms, while specialised concepts operate out of smaller, independent studios with a sufficient number of followers.

But as David Whytcross notes: “Revenue for gyms and fitness centres may actually decline this year, partly because more consumers are opting for the cheaper 24-hour style operations.” So even if the big fitness tent has room for all, it still leaves the question of whether a shake-up will need to occur in either or both of 24-hour and ‘full service’ gyms so that we get to the right number of each for the market.

Verdict

The fitness industry is undergoing a healthy diversification and there is room for a broad mix of concepts. However, with the number of new gyms growing faster than revenues, not all may survive. There may be a slowdown in growth and then a consolidation in their numbers over the next couple of years — particularly in some of the larger chains — until we get to a number that is right for the Australian market.

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