Fitness franchises are back in vogue – here’s why

With gym membership soaring 44% year on year, owning a fitness franchise can be a lucrative investment for budding entrepreneurs

There were 44,200 franchises operating in the UK last year, while the franchise sector contributed £15.1 billion to the UK economy (a 46% increase on the previous 12 months). Add to this the growing popularity of the health and fitness sector and surely you’re on to a winner with a fitness franchise.

A revitalised sector

The recession had a significant impact on the private health and fitness sector as more people chose to exercise in private for free.

However, it also allowed budget gyms to cater to growing demand at the lower end of the market with competitively priced, more flexible memberships.

A report last year from research analyst Mintel confirms this, stating that “the indications for the private health and fitness club sector remain promising, with the continued rise of budget gyms helping to break down the barriers associated with more established clubs – namely cost, location and the commitment of entering long-term contracts.”

Last year consumer spending on UK gym memberships rose 44% year on year.

Cathryn Hayes, head of business support at the British Franchise Association (bfa), said: “One of the bigger growth sectors is gyms and health clubs, from low-cost, no-contract models to big brands and large outlets in town centres.

“It’s a growing marketplace – arguably the UK population has never been so health-conscious and fitness franchising has been big business for a while now.”

Tim Cook, partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants, told the Guardian: “We estimate that emerging ‘value gyms’ […] are likely to make up 30% of the private gym market in the next three to four years.”

And the number of gym growers is only anticipated to grow – with wearable tech said to be playing a large part in motivating people to get fit.

What are the opportunities?

The first thing you will need to think about is what franchise you are interested in joining – are you interested in a long established franchise or a newer entrant to the market?

Both options offer good opportunities but bring different risks too. Choosing a well-established franchise has its obvious advantages: experience, a well-known brand and a larger pre-existing customer base.

Choosing a less known franchise is a slightly riskier option, but it can be highly rewarding being part of a budding success story.

If start-up capital is an issue for you, this may be a better option as the joining fee will probably be lower in a bid to attract new franchisees. You may also be granted more freedom if the franchise is still finding its feet.

Franchises that capitalise on the latest trends are also an option worth exploring. ‘Immersive fitness’ brands like CrossFit, spin classes, boot camps and kickboxing are becoming increasingly popular in the UK.

Expert advice

Catherine Weir, the Dundeee franchisee for SHOKK Gym, explains why she chose franchising over starting her own business: “It takes a great leap faith to put your money into something which might not work, or where failure would result in financial disaster, so I had decided on franchising pretty early on.

“Franchising is the one and only way where you can start with a business model which is tried and tested and has a proven track record of success. I was looking for something which would allow me to work with children, and also put to use the knowledge I had gathered at university.”

Former athlete and sports fitness instructor Heidi Parr told that in order to be a successful fitness franchise owner you do have to be “ready and willing to work long hours”.

Now the owner of a Power Train franchise, her advice to others is: “Stay humble. Be patient. Let your employees grow into their positions while providing them with guidance and accountability. Do not waver in the quality you want to provide [to] the community.”

Melanie Luff

About the author

Mel wrote for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other global industry publications.