The rise of no-frills gyms like Zone Fitness is changing the shape of the South African fitness club industry. How? By transforming the gym membership into an affordable necessity.
In a world of widening waistlines and climbing numbers of chronic conditions, most of us simply can’t afford not to exercise. But this essential preventative health measure has historically been out-of-reach for the very people who need it most. Why? Because there simply aren’t enough affordable fitness facilities in South Africa.
A report, based on a 2006 investigation into the South African fitness industry, researchers from the UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine and Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA) states: “One area of opportunity is in the informal sector of the fitness industry, and this relates to the affordability of joining a fitness facility... The fitness industry needs to work on developing services that are suitable for certain areas where people are not able to afford gym fees but need to exercise.”
This investigation further found that in the 442 local fitness facilities that were assessed, membership numbers came to 813 012 – only 1.73% of the estimated South African population for 2005.
The situation is not unique to South Africa. In fact, it’s a global fitness-club conundrum. But the times are certainly changing, and gyms are being forced to change with them.
Putting affordability first
“Since launching Zone Fitness in January 2002, our aim has been to provide fitness facilities that are affordable to the average person,” says Herman Blackie, Director of Zone Fitness (Pty) Ltd.
“Everybody should have the opportunity to belong to a fitness club and commit to a healthier lifestyle. So, by providing a pure fitness facility and limiting non-core extras like swimming pools and squash courts, we’re able to provide a world-class facility at very affordable rate. Fitness is no longer a luxury product, but can now become a part of everybody’s life.”
Research shows that no-frills clubs like Zone Fitness are both on time and on-trend. A recent report by Koncept Analytics on the global fitness-club industry has identified a key trend in the rise of low-cost gyms that eliminate luxurious extras and focus on exercise essentials.
Just one such success story is 24HourFitness, the largest privately owned fitness centre chain in the world. Since starting with one club in 1983, the company’s aim has been to make fitness a way of life by offering multi-sport fitness centres that are affordable and accessible to all. And now, with 385+ clubs across America, nothing has changed.
The South African health-club industry might be dominated by the “Big Two” (Virgin Active and Planet Fitness), but according to the investigation by the UCT/MRC Research Unit and SSISA, “the fitness industry is broader than traditional gym and health clubs”.
According to this report, 68% of local facilities are actually independent – a similar figure to that seen the US where gym chains comprise only 17% of the market.
The Koncept Analytics report also states that, globally, this market is quite fragmented, which presents significant growth opportunities for both market veterans and new clubs on the block.
Add to this the public-health focus on preventative measures and the fact that the worldwide health market is expected to become a trillion dollar industry by 2010, and it’s clear that there’s more than enough room for gyms that target the mass market by making value-for-money a priority.
The business of fitness
For most fitness clubs, membership fees (and hence client retention) constitute both a primary source of income and a measure of the club’s operational success. That’s why South African players are shifting from acquisition- to retention-focused strategies, offering financial or facility incentives, alongside just a straightforward gym membership contract.
“This is thought to result in client wanting to commit long term to a brand (continuous commitment) as opposed to ‘affective commitment’ – which is based on emotional attachment to a club or brand,” says Blackie. Factors that are thought to contribute to affective commitment include satisfaction, service quality, commitment, involvement and identification.
“Zone Fitness is focusing on these factors by giving members smaller, more intimate clubs, great service and facilities they really want,” Blackie continues. “And this healthy business model is the driving force behind our brand’s steady and consistent growth.”
Zone Fitness has 45 000 members and nine clubs – eight across the greater Cape Town metropolitan area and one in Johannesburg’s CBD district.
Fully equipped free weights section, spinning (in selected clubs), aerobic studios, a toning and/or super-circuit, a full range electronic cardiovascular equipment, as well as a team of qualified personal trainers and fitness instructors.
Western Cape – Parow, Brackenfell, Milnerton, Willowbridge Tygervallery, Wynberg, Rondebosch, Fish Hoek, Kloof Street Cape Town and Johannesburg CBD. A new club is set to open in the Cape Quarter, De Waterkant on 1 November 2009.
(Press release, October 2009)