According to data published by The Leisure Database company, 167 new fitness facilities – both public and private - opened during the 2012/2013 financial year, up from 163 in 2012, 149 in 2011 and 122 in 2010.
The growth has been driven by the rapid rise of the low cost gym market. The first low-cost gym was opened in 2006 by the FitSpace group, and in just 7 years, the sector now accounts for 6% of all private clubs, 6% of private market value, and an incredible 14% of all private membership.
Much in the same way as pay as-you-go schemes opened up the mobile phones market to users during the early 2000s, low cost gyms and fitness centres offer an alternative to these expensive contracts.
Gym membership has traditionally been seen as cost-prohibitive and impractical to many potential customers, being locked in to an escape-proof, expensive 12 month contract is often intimidating for those looking to undertake a casual fitness regime. Much in the same way as pay as-you-go schemes opened up the mobile phones market to users during the early 2000s, low cost gyms and fitness centres offer a viable alternative, offering an easy to join, easy to leave low-cost membership model, suited to this market.
Memberships usually undertaken on a rolling monthly basis, offer a typical monthly membership at least 50% below the £43 per month UK average, but membership flexibility is a key USP.
To achieve this, a low-cost gym cuts out any service deemed superfluous to the core function of providing gym equipment and a space in which to use it. For example, most low cost gyms do not offer a swimming pool, fitness classes or personal trainers, in fact, many require only a single member of staff at any one time.
Technological advances have eliminated the need for sizable expenses. Traditional gyms and fitness clubs require numerous staff member to manage and provide membership, renewals and retention, receptionists to greet members, cover required over long opening hours.
However, with a low-cost gym, all membership registration and renewal takes place online, with many low-cost gyms offer a touch-in/touch-out card service (not unlike the Oyster card system used across London’s public transport network) in place of check-in desks.
Not only does this reduce cost for the owner, it is considerably more convenient – not to mention less intimidating - for the customer. This model also allows for considerably longer opening hours, with some gyms able to offer a 24 hour service.
The low cost model arguably appeals to a far wider market than the traditional gym: While there is certainly a proven market for specialist facilities and services, an easily accessible, cheaper ‘no frills’ option has been sorely lacking for many years.
The only potential drawback is (as is the case with any new innovation) the consumer’s ability to trust the product, meaning that franchisees who buy into a successful model offered by established, well known companies (such as the energie group’s Fit4Less brand) have a considerable leg-up on self starters.
The low cost gym sector appears to be at a tipping point, and has a very real chance of following the same trajectory as a sector like coffee, which has permeated the national consciousness to the degree that a coffee shop or cafe appears on every high street. Now is the ideal time to get on board.