MT Survey of Surveys: Fitness

To beef up their profits, gym chains are looking to attract an older, less fanatical, membership with cafes and pampering treatments alongside the weights and treadmills. Lucy Aitken reports. After all the mince pies have been scoffed and a few drams have been downed at New Year, January is usually synonymous with an attempt to shed a few pounds and get fit. So the nation's health clubs roll up their sleeves and get to work, ever eager to sign up new members.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

One of the main stumbling blocks for potential customers, however, is that most health clubs have a small and dedicated hardcore of gym babe and bodybuilder members who demotivate the rest of us mere mortals. The older and overweight customers, in particular, can feel ostracised.

For the over fifties, it's difficult to find a suitable gym because clubs tend to target Lycra-clad twenty-somethings. Yet research by Allegra Strategies reveals that the more senior members are in it for the socials as much as the sweatbands: they are far more likely than any other age group to cite meeting people as a reason for joining.

Comments David Minton, director of the Leisure Database Company, which compiles the annual report on the state of the industry for the Fitness Industry Association (FIA): 'Clubs have to respond to the fact that people are living longer; 44 to 65 is where the action is, not 18 to 43. These people have money and power. Clubs are in an ideal position to take advantage of this.'

Fred Turok, chief executive of LA Fitness, is also on a crusade to help Britain's obese. He wants to partner the Government in creating specialist gyms for larger people, so that they aren't dissuaded by those lithe-limbed lovelies going for the burn. If successful, there will be no shortage of potential takers: according to the Department of Health, two-thirds of all men and a half of all women in England are considered to be overweight or obese.

And the Whitbread-owned David Lloyd Leisure, which, with 321,000 members in the UK and Ireland, is the fifth-biggest brand in the marketplace, also wants to be part of the Government solution to obesity. Says Mark Webb, a spokesperson for Whitbread: 'We would love to be part of the consultation process and we're lobbying to be involved.'

There's certainly a business benefit to be had for clubs that manage to align themselves successfully with the Government's targets, and health clubs desperately need to find new revenue streams. In the past, they have suffered from a tendency to rely too heavily on signing up new members, and have come under attack for ignoring the needs of their existing customers.

'The industry has had a "sell 'em quick, get 'em in the door, job done" approach,' argues Webb.

One sign of change is PruHealth, a recent partnership involving two gym chains, Holmes Place and Cannons, and the Prudential insurance group.

PruHealth includes subsidised gym membership as part of a health insurance package, which works on the premise that the more you look after yourself, the lower the premium will be.

Any reduction in the price of membership is a boon, because the average membership costs £518.31 a year, according to the Leisure Database Company. Corporate memberships account for 14.2% of total members, and some health clubs offer discounts for couples or families. A plethora of more gimmicky offers has also become available: Virgin Active's Diamond Membership, for instance, boasts a 'fixed price for life'.

So once members have forked out, how much value do they get from their membership? The Allegra survey shows that more than half (55%) of members visit two or three times a week, and 44% typically spend 45 to 90 minutes in the club. The most popular equipment is cardiovascular (84%), followed by strengthening machines (65%). Some members simply use their club to relax: 50% of members use the sauna, steam room or spa.

The relaxation aspect is certainly one way in which health clubs are learning to differentiate themselves. The rise in treatment rooms, health and beauty facilities and cafes all help to sell clubs as fun places to hang out. And at the Third Space, a premium gym in central London, the atmosphere might be described as 'home from home': members can even pay to have their smelly gymkit laundered and returned to their lockers.

In the eternal search for more customers, health clubs are beginning to expand their empires overseas. Holmes Place has an extensive network of clubs in mainland Europe, while David Lloyd Leisure is opening in Brussels, Barcelona and Rotterdam.

Other means of generating new revenue streams include introducing novel ways of getting people to exercise: Gymbox in Holborn offers 'boob aerobics' for women who must improve their bust, as well as a 'shag workout'. And for frustrated rockers, there's been the odd 'air guitar aerobics' class.

So for those about to take the plunge and work out, we salute you.

TOP UK HEALTH CLUB BRANDS

No of branches

1 Fitness First 146

2 LA Fitness Clubs 62

3 Esporta Clubs 61

4 Livingwell Health Clubs 55

5 David Lloyd Clubs 54

6 Cannons Health Clubs 51

7 Spirit Health & Fitness 49

8 Marriott Health Clubs 49

9 Holmes Place Health Clubs 37

10 YMCA 31

Source: The Leisure Database Company/FIA 2004

UK HEALTH CLUBS IN PLANNING

1 Macdonald Hotels 14

2 Whitbread 12

3 Cannons Group 9

3 JJB Sports 9

5 Next Generation Health & Fitness 8

6 Total Fitness (UK) 7

7 Fitness First 6

7 Bannatyne Fitness 6

9 LA Fitness 5

9 Holmes Place 5

Source: The Leisure Database Company/FIA 2004

CORPORATE MEMBERSHIP

Totally subsidised by company 14.6%

Part-subsidised by company 30.9%

Paid for by employee 54.5%

Source: Allegra Strategies

Six in 10 women and seven in 10 men do not do the recommended 30

minutes' moderate-intensity activity five days a week

Source: Chief Medical Officer's Report, Department of Health

MAIN REASONS FOR JOINING A HEALTH CLUB

ANALYSED BY AGE (%)*

16-19 20-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-59 60-64 65+

To get fit 88.3 87.5 88.6 88.0 85.4 83.2 79.6 84.6

Lose weight 31.2 35.2 37.2 39.2 39.1 38.5 28.7 29.9

Relieve stress 14.9 25.9 30.9 36.0 31.6 36.3 29.6 24.8

Socialise 7.8 7.9 9.2 13.5 13.6 15.1 23.1 23.1

Medical reasons 2.6 2.7 4.5 6.1 12.9 19.6 21.3 14.5

Other 9.7 6.8 4.6 6.3 7.3 6.1 7.4 8.5

Source: Allegra Strategies

*Respondents were permitted to cite multiple reasons

TRENDS IN THE PROVISION OF FACILITIES

2003 Net increase

(% of clubs) 1999-2003 (%)

Treatment room 70.1 46.1

Group cycling 49.0 29.0

Vending machines 50.9 16.9

Steam room 70.7 15.7

Indoor pool 58.6 11.6

Cafe 45.6 10.6

Health & beauty 66.4 10.4

Jacuzzi 54.7 8.7

Branded junior club 8.0 5.0

Sauna 89.6 3.6

Source: Leisure Database Company/FIA 2004

TOP 10 REGIONS BY NUMBER OF CLUBS

GREATER LONDON 327

GREATER MANCHESTER 94

WEST MIDLANDS 72

WEST YORKSHIRE 72

HAMPSHIRE 60

ESSEX 58

CHESHIRE 51

STRATHCLYDE 49

SURREY 47

HERTFORDSHIRE 47

Source: The Leisure Database Company/FIA 2004

BRITAIN'S FATTEST CITIES

1 MANCHESTER

2 STOKE-ON-TRENT

3 LIVERPOOL

3 SWANSEA

5 LEICESTER

6 GLASGOW

7 EDINBURGH

7 WOLVERHAMPTON

9 BELFAST

10 NOTTINGHAM

Source: Men's Fitness 2004

NB: Consumption of fat, number of fast food outlets, incidence of heart

disease and drinking habits were offset against gym membership,

availability of open spaces and consumption of fruit and vegetables.

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