KING GEORGE ISLAND, Antarctica — As traditional gym markets in the UK and Europe become increasingly saturated, two experienced fitness operators at either end of the premium spectrum have embarked on ambitious voyages of discovery to reach new consumers.
Last month Anytime Fitness, the world’s fastest-growing gym franchise, opened the world’s first gym at the bottom of the Earth, in Antarctica, making it the first franchise company – in any sector – to serve all seven continents.
By sharp contrast Physique 57, a luxury 13-year-old New York City-based barre studio chain with a cult celebrity following and premium prices, most recently – and controversially – broke ground by opening its newest studio in Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
ON THE RISE
Whether PR stunts or anomalies, the fact remains the UK and US fitness landscape has never been more cutthroat and competitive with a captive millennial demographic spoiled for choice. “We’re currently in a golden age of fitness,” according to David Minton, the Founder and MD of LeisureDB, which has been tracking UK consumer habits for more than 30 years.
Speaking to the FT last year, he predicted the industry to hit several milestones over the next two years. “The number of UK gyms is on course to go over 7,000 for the first time [it’s currently at 7,038], total membership should exceed 10m, market value is expected to reach £5bn and the penetration rate should easily surpass 15%,” he said, meaning 1 in every 7 people in the UK are members of a gym.
America’s millennials are even more hooked. In the US in 2017, according to Marketwatch, 36% of 18- to 36-year-olds paid for a gym membership – twice the percentage of people older than them. But outside of the UK and US there are untapped markets with similarly lucrative potential. “Growth will only be limited to the imagination of those pushing the boundaries,” Minton added.
BOOSTING YOUR BRAND
With its recent mission to Antarctica, Anytime Fitness is one company with the imagination to expand its horizons.
A 24-hour, 365-day health and fitness club, with its headquarters in Minnesota in America’s Upper Midwest, Anytime Fitness has been expanding at a rate of knots since it was founded in 2002.
It’s the fastest growing fitness franchise of all time, averaging more than 300 new gyms a year for the past decade (as of 2017) according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). And last October the company, which serves nearly 4,000,000 members in over 4,500 clubs across 30 countries, celebrated its one billionth gym visit.
Speaking to Observer.com Co-Founder and CEO Chuck Runyon underlined its new gym – aboard the Megallan Explorer, a 300-foot ice-strengthened luxury cruise ship off Antarctica’s King George Island – is significant for underlining the brand’s values.
“We really fervently believe in our company’s ethos of ‘fitness any way you want it, any time you want it and anywhere you want it,’ and being able to hoist the Anytime ‘Running Man’ flag on Antarctica was another way to show to our franchisees across the globe, as well as their customers, that we are deeply committed to providing fitness options anywhere they go.”
Rapid expansion, however, can bring its own challenges. Just last month Anytime Active gyms underwent a rebrand in the UK to change its positioning from convenience to coaching, underpinned by an updated logo featuring the statement “Let’s Make Healthy Happen”.
On the other end of the premium gym spectrum, Physique 57’s venture into the unknown is a bold move to capitalise on the changing political landscape in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia, whose population of 33 million hits the consumer trifecta of young, wealthy, and tech-savvy, is the 15th wealthiest country in the world. Almost 70% of the population is under the age of 30, making it an extremely lucrative proposition for fitness studio expansion.
But, previously, female-only gyms, where women could participate in Physique 57’s type of ballet-inspired class, were outlawed. That all changed in 2017, with Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 economic and social reforms. As the government finally began licensing women-only gyms, there’s been a sudden gold rush into the oil-rich country.
Physique 57 – following hot on the heels of Curves, Gold’s Gym, and CrossFit – is now being joined by an influx of entrepreneurial activity as Saudi women are creating women-only running clubs, boxing studios and flocking to local chains such as Fitness Time and NuYu.
Speaking to Inc.com, Co-Founder Jennifer Vaughan Maanavi explained they saw the move as an opportunity to fight obesity, which affects almost 40% of Saudi women, and be a part of the social change.
“Offering more exercise to the women of Saudi Arabia is a simple idea with tremendous impact,” said Maanavi, whose company has around 130 US employees and an annual revenue well above $10 million.
“We’ve opened 13 studios, and nothing is more exciting than this moment,” she added. “Whatever is happening with [Saudi Arabia] politically, it must remain separate from our mission to help empower women.”
Clearly as Physique 57 and Anytime Fitness have demonstrated – in equally hostile environments yet vastly different markets – there remains plenty of uncharted territory yet to be explored by intrepid wellness pioneers willing to step outside their comfort zones.